Initial, early symptoms of an acoustic neuroma

A slow growing brain tumour, such as an acoustic neuroma, develops over years, and often over decades, and correspondingly often causes only a few complaints during this long time period.

Given that an acoustic neuroma grows on the nerve sheath of the nervus vestibulocochlearis (cranial nerve VIII with a balance and acoustic part), the first disorders affect an acoustic neuroma sufferer's balance and hearing.

The most frequent and common first symptom is a decrease in hearing on one side. In most cases the loss of hearing occurs slowly and subtly. Those affected often notice the hearing problem very late or by chance, for example when telephoning or during a routine examination. Above all, high-frequency hearing difficulties are noticed – suddenly one can no longer hear the birdsong or it has changed. Acoustic neuromas are often noticeable through acute hearing loss, in other words through a sudden onset, on one side, of almost complete hearing loss. In many cases improvements or corrections of hearing loss are seen after several days of infusion treatment with blood circulation enhancing agents. However, it is not permanent. At a later stage further acute hearing losses occur and the patient's hearing becomes increasingly poor. Several losses of hearing mostly indicate an acoustic neuroma.

The increasing hearing difficulties are often accompanied by ear noise, or tinnitus; tinnitus may even be the first symptom, without the person affected having or experiencing hearing loss. Like hearing loss, tinnitus is also present mostly in the high-frequency range. Most of those affected find it has a severe impact.

Although acoustic neuromas mostly originate from the upper part of the balance nerve, vertigo and impaired balance rank only in third place as a symptom of an acoustic neuroma. They appear as swaying dizziness, and seldom as vertigo and unstable walking. Often only after being asked directly do acoustic neuroma sufferers admit to experiencing an occasional vague feeling of instability, mostly in the dark and with sudden head and body movements. The causes for the late subjective feeling is that acoustic neuromas mostly grow very slowly and the brain is in the position, based on the intact system on the other side of the head , to compensate for the failing balance system. A pleasant consequence of this, amongst others, is that after an operation there are no longer any noteworthy balance problems.

These three complexes of symptoms already occur when the acoustic neuroma is still relatively small and it is found mainly or exclusively in the bony ear canal (in the intrameatal position). In this narrow, bony area the facial nerve is often pressed flat, however it still retains its function. Through the slow loss of the balance function the brain can offset the functions of the balance system. However, the auditory nerve reacts most sensitively to disorders (compression and reduced blood supply). For that reason hearing impairments are most commonly the first symptom.

As a rule: there are no rules

Generally speaking, acoustic neuromas grow slowly to very slowly. They can remain undetected for decades, in other words causing no symptoms that the person affected experiences as abnormal, irritating, worrying or even painful. Why and when the circumstances arise for the irritated nerves to rebel, in other words, to pipe up, is difficult to predict. With some patients there is a regular increase in growth. Yet even here there are no proven causes and connections. There is evidence that particular situations, that are strenuous or even stressful for the whole organism and immune system can be the reason for a temporary, sudden growth – for example, a pregnancy or a stressing operation on another body part. The description of sportlilly and NINO69 in the forum suggest that. However, nothing is proven yet. In any case we must emphasise that we're talking about the rate of growth here – pregnancy or operations are in no way the cause of acoustic neuromas!

The different symptoms do not occur in a specific order, nor is there a specific combination. Symptoms may also occasionally disappear again and then reappear weaker or stronger for a certain length of time, or be constant from that point onwards. There are not even any generalities.

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